Too Old for Hostels

Matador has a great post up about how you know you’re too old to stay at hostels. Just about every one of those applies to me, except I don’t think about telling people to shut the hell up after 1:30am, I actually say that to them.

Most cities have non-party hostels, so those are the ones I usually stay at, thus bypassing many of the problems mentioned in the Matador post (party boats, etc.). And in Southeast Asia, a private hotel room with attached bathroom was so cheap, I usually went with those.

But some of the things they mention–rolling your eyes any time someone talks about “just living,” stereotyping Australians–well, those apply anywhere.

The Things I Left Behind

Apparently, the latest travel advice is to take your grungiest underwear and t-shirts with you, wear them out over the course of the vacation, and then buy new ones to take home. I see the benefits of that, but when you’re traveling for longer than two weeks, it’s trickier. I take only one of just about everything–jeans, warm top, jacket, etc.–so it has to be able to last the whole trip. A lot of people do buy new clothes on their travels, especially in Southeast Asia and South America, where everything is cheaper, but I usually can’t find anything close to my size, so I can’t depend on that.

My Chacos lasted me over three years of hard use

My Chacos lasted me over three years of hard use

So it’s not surprising that a lot of things don’t make it home with me. On this last trip, my bag came home considerably lighter than it had left. Here’s what I left behind in the hostel trash in Buenos Aires:

  • one pair of Chacos, right shoe’s strap dangling
  • one pair of ripped-up yoga pants
  • one pair of destroyed leggings
  • one small backpack, strap dangling and hole near zipper growing more giant by the hour
  • at least a kilo of paper–notes from Spanish class, receipts, tickets, scribbled tips from other travelers about what to do in various cities

The backpack broke as I started out on my second day at Iguazu, so I spent the day carrying it around like a particularly cumbersome purse. The shoe broke in the last hour of my time at the falls that same day, so I flapped around the trails and switched to flip flops as soon as I got back to the hostel. Could’ve been worse.

Literally the moment I boarded the bus to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, the strap on this backpack broke

Literally the moment I boarded the bus to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, the strap on this backpack broke

Then there are the things I lost:

  • my purse and everything in it, stolen in Cusco
  • the scarf I bought to replace the scarf that was stolen
  • one charger, for the mp3 player I bought to replace the music on my stolen iPhone
  • one headlamp
  • one fleece, so warm and desperately needed (I bought a new one online before I even returned home, is how necessary a fleece is to my travels)

Material possessions take on a dual meaning when you’re traveling for a long time. On one hand, of course they don’t matter as much–you’re living a different kind of life from the one you lived when you were in one place, and you just need less stuff. On the other hand, you only have one of everything, so if something breaks or goes missing, you’re missing something that you considered crucial enough to carry around on your back for five months. You don’t need much, but what you do need, you generally really need.

Still, it’s all replaceable. Which reminds me, I’d better go shopping before I leave again.

The hole appeared one day, and three days later, there was hardly any point to having a zipper

The hole appeared one day, and three days later, there was hardly any point to having a zipper

Getting Robbed Abroad

Check out my piece about getting robbed abroad over at The Billfold! (You read about it  briefly here.) It was a strange and mostly unpleasant experience, but it makes for a decent story. Here’s an excerpt:

I looked over to check the time, and my purse wasn’t there. My brain couldn’t quite process this. I checked behind me, in case it had fallen over. There was nothing. My brain started to catch up. I leapt to my feet and looked around frantically, but my purse was nowhere to be found….

I couldn’t believe it, I still can’t believe it; this couldn’t happen to me, but it did. I’m mad at myself for being careless. I’m furious at the thief. I’m ready to leave town.

Feel free to leave comments at The Billfold and spread the story around!

“Live Your Dreams” is Bullshit, If That’s Where It Ends

People tend to get annoyed when the subject of living your dreams comes up and I say that it’s bullshit. Clearly, I believe in dreaming big and going for it—as the last year and a half of my own life shows—but I don’t think that anything’s possible. There are always limitations, some of them changeable and some of them not. Like maybe you want to be an opera singer but you’re always slightly off-pitch no matter how much you practice—I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re not going to achieve that particular dream. Which isn’t to say you can’t sing every day of your life and love it, but opera isn’t in your future. (Pop songs, maybe; I hear this Bob Dylan guy does well for himself.) Wanting something badly enough isn’t going to erase certain obstacles.

So there are inherent obstacles and then there are situational ones. These are the ones that make me angry, when travel blogs say, “You can do this, too! Drop everything and travel the world, it’s only your fear holding you back!” Sometimes, sure, it’s fear of the unknown and with a little push, you could really get out there and do it. But far more often, it’s a whole host of factors. If you have young kids, if you make $8 an hour, if you’re a care giver for an ill parent, if you’re paying off loads of student debt; these are perfectly legitimate reasons for saying, “I wish I could travel for a year, but I don’t think I can.” I know I’ve touched on this theme before, so pardon me for grinding this ax again, but it makes me so angry when privileged people act like people with no money just don’t want something enough to make it happen, be it travel or a secure job or a college education. It can be done, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort, assistance, and luck.

This is what I mean when I say “live your dreams” is a bullshit philosophy. I do not mean you shouldn’t dream and scheme and do things, and I do not mean we should all accept an outdated belief in sticking to one’s station in life, I just mean don’t devalue what you have while pining for some vague future event, and don’t act like dreams come for free. When it comes to encouraging other people to dream big, do what you can to offer practical support too. Don’t simply say to kids, “you can do whatever you want, just stay in school”; help them with their homework, vote for politicians who put money into public schools and free lunches, support after-school programs, help kids navigate the nightmare that is a FAFSA application when they’re applying to colleges, etc. So maybe I can get behind a philosophy of, “let’s help each other live our dreams.”

When it comes to long-term travel, if you start at a certain socioeconomic level, you can get started pretty easily and keep going for a decent amount of time. Still, money does run out eventually, so you have to either limit what you do/budget yourself or find alternatives. For myself, I’ve mostly stuck to a budget and accepted that this means I’ll see certain things and not others; recently, I realized that I could shell out $1200 for a bare-bones visit to the Galapagos Islands, or I could use that same money to get down to Iguazu Falls and the wine country of Argentina for three weeks. It was a tough decision, but I chose the falls over the islands, and I hope I’ll be back someday to see the islands. In the meantime, I’m going to try some alternatives as well, like volunteer gigs on workaway.com, in order to stretch the money more.

I’m living my dream and I still need to make adjustments. Of course I’d love to have unlimited funds and do whatever I like, but just because that’s not the case doesn’t mean I’m not having a wonderful time. It’s just that even dreams have realities.

I’m on Internet Radio!

My friend Dave has a podcast called Getting Better Acquainted, and last July I sat in London’s Hyde Park and talked with him about the first part of my trip around the world for the show. He’s posted it today, and I’m so pleased with it. It was fun to do at the time, but of course you’re never sure how it’s going to sound after the fact. Other than the weirdness of hearing my recorded voice, and the extra “like”s and “uhh”s, I think it stands up well! Please check it out.

We talked about the tourist/traveler distinction, and what it’s like to go somewhere totally new, and what it’s like to travel alone. We talked about some of my favorite and less favorite places, and a little about that time I got hit by a car. I finish with some inspirational words for women who want to travel alone (do it!).

An hour’s a long time, and the first three or so minutes of the podcast are plugs for London-based shows and programs (do listen closely there if you’re in London), but take a listen and let me know what you think! Many thanks to Dave for having me on his show, and to Liz for suggesting it.

Departure Date and Updated Pages

Dearest fellow travelers, I have a departure date! Friday, February 7, I will fly Detroit-Houston-Quito. The next Monday I’ll start a two-week intensive Spanish course, to shore up my nonexistent Spanish skills, and from there, who knows? I hope to be on the road for about six months, but we’ll see how it goes. Many thanks to those who have put me in touch with friends who live in or are familiar with South America; I’m grateful for that personal connection. As ever, feel free to email me at lisa dot findley at gmail dot com if you have tips or contacts to share.

I’ve also updated the Fund This Stowaway page. The two major expenses I expect to encounter on this trip are boating in the Galapagos Islands and hiking around Machu Picchu, and I’ve made them the goals you can contribute to if you so choose. (Said with no pressure. Seriously.)

Finally, I’ve updated the About page, so if you send friends over to check out Stowaway (and please do!), they can get a more accurate picture of what I’m up to.

I do plan to continue writing about my travels this past summer, and I’ll also write about the new adventures I’m having, so keep me in your bookmarks or RSS feed or whatever latest technology keeps Stowaway near and dear to you.

I can almost see home from here

Show me the way to the warmer climes

Goodbye to 2013, and Hello 2014!

As I wrote in my Thanksgiving Day piece: “I’ve spent seven months of this year on a trip around the world, gone to the weddings of some of my most beloved people, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday with the whole clan, and published a piece on a major website. It really has been a terrific year, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.”

I don’t have much to add to that except to say that my New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to post five times a week for the whole year–and I did it! Every Monday through Friday, I posted something from my travels–a photo, a diary entry, a reflection on travel, and only occasionally a “ahh I am too busy to come up with anything today, but I haven’t forgotten you” post. People who work in media have to generate content (that’s the key phrase) all the time, but this is not my job, it is a side project and labor of love. Thus, the challenge of my New Year’s resolution, and my happiness in meeting it.

I won’t be posting every day Monday through Friday for 2014 like I did for 2013, but I will post often. I can’t say what the new year will bring, but plans include: traveling to South America, meeting up with my goddaughter somewhere this summer, posting at least twice a week on Stowaway, gaining more freelance editing clients, and writing for more publications. It’s going to be a good year.

Joy on Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Climbing literal mountains in 2014. Happy New Year!

Where Should I Go Next?

All right, dearest fellow travelers, are you ready to tell me what to do? It’s time for me to be moving on again, and I’m planning to make South America my next destination. If you’ve been, or you know someone who’s been, or you’ve planned your own trip, or you read a cool article once–I want to hear from you.

Sala de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia)

Here are a few places I definitely want to go:

1) Machu Picchu (Peru)
2) Iguazu Falls (Brazil, Argentina)
3) Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)
4) Buenos Aires (Argentina)
5) Amazon jungle (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador)
6) Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
7) Patagonia (Argentina, Chile)
8) Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
9) Beaches (oh, any country)
10) Angel Falls (Venezuela–I know, the political situation, but it’s still a sight I want to see)

Carnival

Here are a few things I definitely want to do:

1) Spend a month in one town, learning Spanish at a language school
2) Volunteer for at least a couple weeks somewhere
3) Party at Carnival (not necessarily in Rio)
4) Attempt to tango in Argentina
5) See wildlife I’ve never seen
6) Hike at least part of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu
7) Find a quiet place to write for awhile
8) Learn to distinguish among the various cuisines
9) Go to a futbol game
10) Dance all night to a local band

Sometimes called The Death Road, sometimes called The Most Dangerous Road in the World–either way, I’m not cycling down it

Here is a thing people do that I do not want to do at all:

Ride a bike down The Most Dangerous Road in the World

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So! Whaddya think? Know anyone who lives down there, or have a favorite hostel I should check out? What’s your favorite village I won’t find in the guidebooks but should totally check out? Got any online resources you found useful? Are there places you’d recommend I skip?

I will leave sometime in January, and I hope to stretch the money out for six months of travel. I’ll keep blogging here at Stowaway, and I’ll be working to get published elsewhere too. I’m getting excited for Phase 2 of my trip around the world! Join me.

Image 1Image 2. Image 3.

Days of Gratitude

I’ve seen a lot of “Days of Gratitude” posts on Facebook this month. People post about something they’re grateful for every day up to Thanksgiving, usually with an accompanying photo. I think it’s a great idea, but I haven’t taken part, mostly because I feel like every blog post I’ve written this year has been a gratitude post.

Every day I get to write, which I’m grateful for in the way that most writers are grateful for the chance to write—it’s an aggravation, sometimes nearly impossible, but occasionally totally satisfying. Every day I write about this amazing trip I’ve been on, so every day I’m grateful anew for the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.

I’ve spent seven months of this year on a trip around the world, gone to the weddings of some of my most beloved people, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday with the whole clan, and published a piece on a major website. It really has been a terrific year, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

Thankful for the laughs from this year

Thankful for the laughs from this year